A couple of weeks ago, I attended the first ever Mindful Living Show in London and was very lucky to hear Olympic gold medalist Etienne Stott and Mental Skills Coach Katie Warriner give the opening keynote speech on day 2. Given that we were at the Mindful Living Show, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that they focused on how mindfulness played a crucial role in helping Etienne Stott win gold with teammate Tim Baillie in the canoe whitewater slalom at the 2012 London Olympics.
A retired athlete, Etienne Stott still practises mindfulness meditation daily – at least 20 minutes every morning. For him, mindfulness has become a way of life. And what does this say to the rest of us? If practising mindfulness can help an Olympian win a gold medal when so many external, out-of-control factors are involved, what can it do to rest of us, leading our day-to-day lives? How can it help us?
How does mindfulness help YOU?
Etienne trained and worked hard for 20 years to win his gold medal. Like me, you probably have this picture in your head of Olympians (and athletes in general) training for hours and hours on a daily basis. They need to work on staying fit and eating well too. But come to think of it, it’s not surprising to find out that they work to train their minds probably as hard as they work to train their bodies. They work on their mindset. And this is the bit that most of us so often forget to do.
We have so many roles and responsibilities in life that we put looking after ourselves right at the bottom of the to-do list. And when we have the chance to start focusing on self-care, we tend to reach for those activities that help us ‘maintain our bodies’. But self-care isn’t just a monthly membership to the gym or a one-off trip to the spa every now and then. It has to be about something else. It has to be about the mind, too.
Practising gratitude, kindness, and just giving your mind a break from constant racing or negative thoughts are really not optional anymore. Especially in the crazy, Always-On-The-Go, Always-Connected World we live in. So whether you want to sit cross-legged on the floor in your living room, go to a class, or just take a few minutes each day to just BE and focus on the present moment, we’ve got to remember that it has to be about mindfulness.
How does mindfulness help with your relationships?
We don’t go through life on our own. Just like Etienne Stott didn’t win his gold medal on his own. He had a teammate – Tim Baillie. On that day, they both relied on each other to be at their best, physically and mentally. To stay focused, to make no mistakes, and to be the best they could be. In that particular moment.
Life is a bit like that. It’s not just about us. It’s not always just about what we want. We walk through life with other people. We relate ourselves to others all the time. And the relationships in our life are fundamental. They shape us – they make us who we are. Our ‘teammates’ are the people who carry us with them. So find your teammates in life and hold on to them. Be grateful, hold them tight. It’s not just your friends – your parents, your partner, your children, your siblings. The people who have your back, always. Whoever they are, find them and work on those relationships. Because you’ll have to work with them throughout your life (or parts of it).
How does mindfulness help with ‘the competition’?
Oh, the others. How easy is it to compare yourself to others? To look at their achievements and successes and end up in a big, dark hole of self-doubt, listening to your own limiting beliefs, and experiencing jealousy and inadequacy? Etienne and Katie talked about how Etienne and Tim used to look at other crews for inspiration – they’d focus on the competitors when it mattered, to learn something from them, but they’d choose to stay focused on themselves instead, wherever possible.
Isn’t this a massive life lesson? Think about it. What does comparing ourselves to others (and perhaps even feeling a bit jealous of their successes) help us achieve? It’s not easy. We all do it. But how about we intentionally and mindfully try and make a choice not to?
How does mindfulness help you with what goes on around you?
Think about canoe slalom for a second. To win a gold medal, you have to have worked years and years to be the best in your country. Then you have to be at your best on that day. Your teammate also has to be right there at the same level as you. And be at their best on the day. Oh and then you have the competitors, who are also trying to be at their best (of course), and for you to win, on that day they have to be just ever so slightly worse than you are. But the water? The water is totally unpredictable. The water can change. You can’t control what the water will do.
And you can’t control what will happen in life either. Life happens. Life happens every day, all around you.
And sometimes it’s unpredictable and out of your control.
But you can control your attitude. You can control how you respond. And the choices that you make every day. You can choose your path and your response. Because mindfulness can help you do just that.
And isn’t this the most powerful thing that you can think of?
Does mindfulness help you in your life? Or would you be open to learning more about it?
If you wish to get in touch with Etienne Stott and would like for him to speak at an event or school, you can find him on Twitter. You can also connect with Mental Skills Coach Katie Warriner on Twitter.
And if you missed the Mindful Living Show this year, put the dates 16th and 17th June 2018 in your diary!